Right now, it isn't.
Usually the offense is either a P.J. Hill run up the gut or a pass to a tight end for ten yards. If the team would just use John Clay more, there wouldn't be so much predictability and more big plays. Also, given his dynamic abilities and the team's stumbling performance lately, one wonders why Clay hasn't been given more carries.
Bret Bielema's coaching staff has committed one repeated blunder this year on offense – playing John Clay too little and it's starting to cost the Badgers victories.
P.J. Hill has been the unquestioned starter since he got here. He's mostly been durable, a powerful force and an intelligent runner. There's really nothing wrong with him and for most teams, his production would be more than enough.
He just rarely makes big plays against the big teams. We do know that Clay can hit the home run.
"[John's] got a tremendous amount of ability," said Bielema. "He got in there and really energized the crowd and made some really good runs. He's a very powerful back."
Against Ohio State on Saturday he did that nearly every time he touched the ball. He ran ten times for 69 yards and 6.9 yards per carry average. The crowd even grew the loudest, other than the final two minutes, when Clay carried the ball.
The question then becomes is he being used too little? There are consistent arguments why Clay shouldn't play more; he fumbles too much, has limited amount of experience and still doesn't understand his responsibilities.
Each one of those flimsy arguments falls apart when examined closely.
First, he has yet to fumble for Wisconsin. Next, he adequately understands the playbook entering is his second year in the offense, as he admitted to sleeping with his playbook over the off season. Criticism also centers on his mental abilities, which began after his early academic issues. Yet, the list of prime-time collegiate athletes who falter in the classroom is too numerous to list. If Clay has character issues, we would have heard them by now.
So, why the heck isn't Clay playing more?
"The play that normal people don't see is a play that John was in where the game was extremely tight, and he went the wrong direction and, you know, it kind of just goes unnoticed out there," said Bielema in his Monday news conference in reference to Clay's one second-half carry against Michigan. "But as coaches, now you get in a situation where you know every play counts and you're in the third and fourth quarter, and you know P.J. Hill has been there, done that."
All of this is true, but this team needs to make a change. It's time Bielema stops driving the reliable minivan and start going with the speedy Ferrari. Given the consecutive losses, he's been playing catch-up and Wisconsin needs more than a move-the-chains type player, meaning they should take whatever risk comes with Clay.
Quarterback Allan Evridge and the inexperienced receiving core have forced the hands of this offense. Evridge just hasn't proven he can be consistent. The receivers, who don't even currently deserve the name, are just pitiful.
If it's not the tight ends, the only other way Wisconsin is going to scare people looks to be with Clay.
"Being that I have longer legs, I can pick up ground easy and stride out from a lot of defensive backs," said Clay. "If the offensive line is blocking well it's easy for me to cut to the hole and get to the safety."
Coming into the game against Ohio State, Clay has proven himself by averaging 6.6 yards per carry. That puts him at a full yard better than Hill's personal best. Both players had scored four touchdowns this year, yet Hill has needed three times the carries.
"You can always use a change of pace at any time. A change of momentum or running styles always keeps the defense guessing what's coming next," said Clay. "I use my speed more. [Hill] likes to bruise, but I try and avoid most tackles that I can."
Clay explains that the coaches choose who gets to run more by "whoever gets the rhythm." If that's true, then these last two weeks have just been absurd. First with Michigan, Clay rushed twice in the first half for 45 yards and only saw the ball once in the second half.
On Wisconsin's first touchdown against the Buckeyes, Clay made several sharp, quick runs. Then the team went through stretches were Clay wasn't used while Hill averaged 3.9 yards per carry over the course of the game. No one is capable of the things that Clay does.
It's okay for the coaching staff to be cautious if they are up by a significant margin and want to save the lead. But in that last two weeks that hasn't been the case.
"Obviously, John is a focal point," said Bielema. "I knew after John's reaction to the Michigan game that he would probably play at even higher level against great competition."
That just doesn't make sense. Bielema knows that Clay is capable of more, but yet holds him out after he shows big time production. The best criterion to decide when to play Clay is from Bielema himself, whoever is doing the best at that moment should play more. Unfortunately, right now he's letting the fear of a mistake limit this team when they only have a limited amount of options.
By the looks of it, time is of the essence.